In Saturday's SEC Championship Game, the second half will be crucial to determining the outcome of the game. I know that sounds like a John Madden-style obvious announcement, but bear with me for a sec.
The Iron Bowl confirmed about as clearly as anything that Auburn is generally a second half team. The Tigers shrugged off a 24-0 second quarter deficit to win the game 28-27. All season, Auburn has only had two lackluster second halves: when it got shutout and held on for a 17-14 win over Mississippi State, and when it nearly gave away the Kentucky game before engineering a lengthy drive at the end to put it away.
In all of Auburn's six (!) wins by a touchdown or less, only Kentucky managed to score more than a touchdown. The ability of the Tiger defense to stiffen up in crunch time is easily laid bare when you look at the average halves of those close wins:
- First half: Opponent 15.8, Auburn 13.7
- Second half: Auburn 13.8, Opponent 8.0
Auburn's scoring average doesn't really change across the halves, but its opponents scored a touchdown less in the second half. If you exclude the Kentucky game, when Auburn clearly fell asleep at the wheel, the opponent second half scoring average falls to 6.2.
Now when South Carolina collapsed and lost to Auburn back in September, the Tigers had plenty of second half help. After scoring a touchdown to take a 27-21 lead late in the third quarter, the Gamecocks went fumble-fumble-INT-INT to close out the game. Both of the INTs were thrown by true freshman Connor Shaw, who we won't see on Saturday unless Stephen Garcia goes out to injury.
Of course, second half debacles are the story of all of South Carolina's losses. The Gamecocks gave up four turnovers and 14 unanswered after taking that 27-21 lead on Auburn. They went into halftime with a 28-10 lead on Kentucky, only to lose 31-28. They had an outright flop against Arkansas, who extended a 24-10 haltime lead to 41-10 before South Carolina scored 10 garbage time points.
Then again, strong second halves are the hallmark of South Carolina's six wins against SEC foes and Clemson. Tennessee was the only opponent who managed a touchdown in the third quarter in those wins, while Alabama was the only opponent to register a non-garbage time touchdown in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile Georgia was the only opponent to keep the Gamecocks out of the end zone in the second half of any of the wins, and South Carolina scored in double digits in the second half of every other victory.
If South Carolina jumps out to an early double digit lead, don't pay much heed to it. For one thing, they did so in two of their losses (20-7 in the second over Auburn; 28-10 at the half over Kentucky). For another, it probably won't last. While the Tigers have faced several big first half holes, they've only trailed big at the half once all year. That deficit was 17-3 to Clemson, but they roared out of intermission to win the third quarter with a 21-0 advantage.
The game will truly be won in the second half.